The Underground Railroad

The Freedom Trail Symbol Analysis

The Freedom Trail Symbol Icon

The Freedom Trail is an endless row of lynched black bodies in North Carolina, left out on display to warn black people against rebellion. The bodies are mutilated and rotting, and the Freedom Trail thus represents the gory reality of white supremacy. The Trail is a mythic site with fantastical elements, such as the fact that it has no beginning or end. In this way, the Trail represents the limitless and unimaginable violence exerted on black people and the absolute moral vacuum of white supremacy. While no such trail existed in history, lynching was such a massive phenomenon that if the bodies of all the black people lynched in America were lined up, the trail would indeed stretch out in a seemingly infinite manner. Furthermore, because this violence was so widespread and normalized, it is impossible to know the exact numbers of people murdered in this way. The infinite nature of the Freedom Trail thus represents the unknowability of the history of black life in America, particularly given the fact that enslaved people were forbidden from recording accounts of their own lives and that those who were lynched were silenced forever. The trail confirms the symbolic link between death and freedom in the novel. While Cora is on the run, most of the people who flee with her or help her are killed, and thus Cora is haunted by her own symbolic Freedom Trail comprised of all the deaths that take place during her escape.

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The Freedom Trail Symbol Timeline in The Underground Railroad

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Freedom Trail appears in The Underground Railroad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6: North Carolina
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...rotting corpses that have been mutilated and hanged. Martin explains, “They call this road the Freedom Trail now.” The next time they stop, it is at Martin’s house. On seeing Cora, Martin’s... (full context)
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...Carolina, and anyone caught in the state was lynched and hung up on the “ Freedom Trail .” (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
...guilty of assisting black people are hanged, but their bodies are not added to the Freedom Trail . The punishment for even possessing abolitionist literature is technically jail time, although in reality... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...two black boys in their house. The little boys’ bodies are strung up on the Freedom Trail . When Ethel is told about this, she faints. That night, Cora goes to bed... (full context)
Chapter 10: Indiana
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
...with Red after Red’s wife and child were lynched in North Carolina. Red walked the Freedom Trail searching for their bodies, but never found them. When Red learns that Cora killed the... (full context)